How Techies Can Improve Democracy and Governance

By chromatic
October 30, 2008 | Comments: 8

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Silona Bonewald is an established technologist as well as an experienced political consultant. Two of her projects are Transparent Federal Budget and the League of Technical Voters. She's had success explaining the need for and the use of social networking and other participatory tools in state governments. Silona recently agreed to talk to O'Reilly about her projects and how well-designed technologies can improve the business of governing and building real-world communities.

Silona Bonewald (Steven Noreyko photo credit)

You know we have an election coming up. I think you've probably heard about it.

Once or twice maybe.

It turns out a lot of technical people are fans of O'Reilly for some reason -- the Tim kind, not the Bill kind.

Yes. Yes.

I thought, "Hey, let's get someone who knows about technology and voting in elections to talk," and maybe we can publish that before people in the US go to vote.

Exactly. Not only that, but for a lot of this stuff, I think it plays directly to the O'Reilly audience on a lot of it because we care a lot about interactivity.

Right.

I know that we're trying to get a lot of influence in regards to that. definitely.

That's a really interesting thing because of this election as well. You probably remember the Dean campaign from 2002-2003 where a lot of people in the tech world said, "My goodness, this man understands the Internet. His campaign is getting people involved." It didn't work out too well for him overall, but looking at how technology has changed how people do campaigning at least between that presidential election and this presidential election, you almost can't even recognize the Dean campaign because of how effective the Obama campaign and the other campaigns have been this time around.

Oh, definitely. You know, Obama hired a lot of those people, too. He didn't hire all of my friends from that, but he definitely got a lot of that group together for his mybarackobama.com.

It just amazes me that someone who wants to run for president cares that people can Twitter and have Meetups.

I think the thing that's most significant actually about Barack is that it's not so much the always knowing the newest on the technology, but he's smart enough to let a lot of us do our thing, you know, get out of the way kind of thing. That's what speaks really well about him. I watch him doing that not just in the technical arena but in a lot of others -- like how all of the issues were done. I know that he has a troop of experts that basically helped write each one of those sections on the website.

There's a lot of input that he gets in from a lot of different groups. He's definitely got this huge mass of experts that he taps into on a regular basis, not just technical, which impresses me highly.

This reminds me of something I just read on the League of Tech Voters blog. One of your colleagues made connection between not just using the Internet for politics, marketing, things like that, but saying effectively this is something that businesses, companies, and non-profits can learn. If you have passionate people, passionate users, people who are care about your cause, using tools to harvest that passion and engage with those people, whether it's tools you build yourself or tools that exist you just find them on, being able to engage them in ways that harness their existing passion really seems like a real benefit for everybody.

League of Technical Voters Logo

Definitely. Definitely. That's definitely one of the things that they're doing with mybarackobama.com. It's very focused on running a political campaign, so it's very focused on volunteers, getting volunteers, helping with the polling, doing the phone calling, things of that nature. But it is very focused on creating a technical tool that makes them able to organize things on a whole other level that we've never seen before. When you sit there and think about the financial fundraising machine that they've created, it's amazing. But if you actually look at the tech industry on their fundraising machine, you can also sit there and go, "Wow, there's so much farther that we could go, too."

It's kind of a funny dichotomy in regards to that where you sit there and you look at what they've done politically speaking. It's like they've drug all of the politicos kicking and screaming into Web 2.0. But if you look at some of the Web 2.0 implementations, it's like "150 million, yeah, that's good, but we can do more than that."

It is interesting. I do hope that that trend continues.

Do you think that tech drives the organization or the organization drives the tech?

I think the organization is driving the tech. As much as I might want the tech to drive, I don't think that's actually the case. Looking at a lot of the different focuses and sometimes even though I as a geek might want that to be the case, I kind of also know better and that it needs to be the other way too for it to get true adoption and to be completely integrated into what they're doing.

Geeks can be a little naïve sometimes, too. Look at the Facebook privacy policy fiasco for example. You think, "It's technically easy to share all of this information." But did anyone stop and say, "Wait. Okay. Business ethics time. Should we?"

Well, you know, that's the realm that I play in. That's kind of my thing, being the only Silona Bonewald in the world and being a database administrator since 1989; I realized early on what was happening in regards to privacy and identity. I focused in on that a lot. In fact, it's the key thing that drives all of my involvement in regards to politics and technology, and it's completely selfish.

Let's move away from campaigns then. Let's talk about encouraging good government and encouraging technical people to help government become better. What, in your mind, is a good government? What makes it better?

A good government is a responsive government, a government that actively listens. There's a lot of different ways that you can gather in a lot of data, but how do we know that they're actually -- sometimes they listen and they don't go the way we want them to. That's fine, or that's fine occasionally. We all have multiple motivations and nobody gets whatever they want 100 percent of the time. But how do we do that in such a way so that the majority of the time we do feel like we're being heard and represented and things of that nature? That is an important function of government.

It's also an important function of government to be a statesman and that's one of the things I think that's lacking in modern government these days is very rarely do you ever see a politician actually being a statesman anymore, being the middle ground that several different groups come to when they're diverging on topics to find a middle ground. One of the things I've been working on is tools to help enable that.

An example of a statesman is, of course, Solomon who was never elected. Maybe our form government does not encourage that.

Yeah. Well, it's interesting. I think a lot of it has to do with the math behind our election system. The fact of the matter and the way that we vote with one person, one vote, one area, one territory means that we always have a two-party system.

Because of that mathematical mess, you do force people to always go that direction. That's kind of sad, and that's one reason why sometimes when I look at a lot of the voting stuff, when I start thinking in the long view, I want to figure out a way to make it more mathematically representational.

Do you think something like proportional voting is better or an instant runoff?

Instant runoff, I think, would help. I think that there's other stuff that could also help. That there needs to be more research done. And I think also, honestly, there needs to be more experimentation done. We haven't been doing any of that.

Where would you see that happening? In local elections? State run elections? States in the US, for all of our international listeners and readers, they have the power to run their own elections and decide, at least for presidential elections, how they elect their electors. There's a really interesting semi-decentralized system there, but in practice, it's all the same mess with the Electrical College and everything.

Yes, it's true. Yeah. That's one of the groups that I don't normally focus as much on the federal level. I do normally focus on the state level because of the fact that we can experiment more in America on the state level. Not only that, but a lot of our states, they're the same size [and] their GDP is the same size as a lot of other countries.

One of the things that I always like to explain to some of my European friends is don't think of the United States as one country; think of it as you would the EU because there's a lot of diversification. Yes, we're a little bit more unified than the EU is on many levels, but it's not actually that significantly different. That's why I do try to play a lot in the state politics because I think that that's one area that we can actually get that kind of change in.

Have you seen results?

It's something that I just started getting traction on last year when I went and talked to the EC3. They're a group of state CIOs, CTOs, and Secretaries of State. That's one reason why I'm so positive about Obama doing a CTO; I think that has a lot of room for enabling more experimentation in that realm on the federal level while previously I've only been talking with all of the state CIOs and CTOs.

I guess that goes back to my original question. Does the tech set policy, or is the tech just there to amplify good things and hopefully eradicate bad things?

I hope that the tech is there to amplify. I think that it's also there to quantify. One of the things that I would like to see more focusing on is the quantification. One of the things that I've been working on is something that previously I was calling the CW Wiki or Consensus Wiki or Common Ground Building Wiki. It's a way to take in-person town hall meetings and have people discuss topics and be able to bubble up issues in a quantitative manner as well as being able to think about it and see all of the commentary and things of that nature. Tech can enable more of that so that people can sit there and go, "Oh, okay. I get --." A lot of times people tend to fester on a single issue that they didn't get.

This would be a much better way to sit there and go, "You know, 80 percent of the time, you got what you wanted." Let's figure out what to do about those single issues. Maybe if those single issues matter to you that much, then maybe you need to weigh them differently and figuring things out of that nature so that politicians can actually help people understand some of those aspects better.

How do you handle some of the obvious issues like the problems with Wikipedia for example? It's not a consensus model; it's a "who has the most time to sit and keep reverting changes he doesn't like?" model.

Yeah. That's one of the things that Jimmy Wales and I have spent several late evenings at a bar drinking chocolate martinis talking about. One of the things that we came up with was he's doing the open source search engine. I wanted to do, and still haven't done yet, an open source social network so that you could actually start to see pieces of a reputation currency coming into place. That you can actually see those people and highlight them for what they are and being able to give weighing to other people.

I also wanted to expand the concept of identity, and it seems to be working now. Four years ago, not very many people were there. But the concept of identity not just being a person but also being concepts and groups and things of that nature.

It's a person in a context.

Yes. Yes. People having multiple personas as well. It's all about contextualization. In fact, actually, that's what I said was my word for the year during Life Camp this year was, "My word for the year is contextualization." Remembering everything in its context and being able to surround things with context. With semantic technology, even though I hate using the word semantic because it has bad associations for some people, has the ability to give that contextualization to things.

In other words, you can say, "I may not know who you are. I may not know your address. If I don't like you, I may not be able to show up at your doorstep and have an angry discussion with you there, but you were the same person who said this over here."

You were the same person who said this over here. Also, what context did you say it in? Did you say it as an official employee of someone? Or did you say it as an individual? Did you say it as an anonymous snarky think? You know, a lot of additional information on it so that you can actually have a more informed discussion. Giving the statesman job back to the politicians, one of the things that they really need is contextualization. There's the example of the orange where the two children want the orange. The old Solomon way is to chop it in half and give each half.

Well, actually, one of them wanted juice and the other one wanted the peel. Sometimes you can find those if you get farther along the dialogue and facilitation. That's one reason why I've been working with the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation and SRI to figure out how can we do this better in an electronic fashion. That's one of the things that I'm hoping that after the election people will come and talk to us about.

When you talked to EC3, did you have a real sense that these people had a deep understanding of the internet and technology and pluses and minuses and drawbacks? Or was it more nascent in the idea that this Internet thing is big; we should use it somehow?

There were a few that had an understanding. One thing that I've found with people involved in politics is they really do -- like working with Bill Bradley, for example. He has such an innate depth of understanding in regards to social networks. When you bring it on to a certain level, he just gets it.

A lot of these CIOs and CTOs, they're political. They've been working in political realms. When you sit there and you talk to them about a lot of the social networking aspects of it and the reputation aspects of it, they just get it.

We're effectively technologizing what they do.

Exactly. The hard part is expressing the different technology solutions and why some are better than others and some are more dangerous than others. That's the part that I struggle with on, I swear to God, a daily basis. I'm really, really good with the how. Very good with the how. I've worked on massively multiplayer online games. I've done huge massive databases. I did databases for political campaigns in the early nineties. I do large content management systems. It's harder explaining the why, and why certain technologies are dangerous and why certain technologies are better, and why you shouldn't have certain things immediately transparent. Going through all of those, it's a difficult thing to always explain, especially in the complexity of things like identity and reputation -- and expressing why certain things should be done certain ways and not necessarily the way that might be the first way that you look at it.

"You can't send out that much email. You can't send out that much email just because you have their addresses."

Yes. Yes. There's also some weird rules in regards to that, too, for politics in regards to when they're allowed to send out the emails and such.

And whose resources they're allowed to use to do so.

One of the things with mybarackobama.com, a lot of people are like, "Oh, great. So all of this information I'm putting in here is going to completely translate over to his new website." No. That's illegal. The sites have to be separate because if he did, then he would be able to create an election machine where he would be perpetually able to get elected over and over and over again.

So that's illegal. But most people don't even realize that. Most people haven't even considered as to what are the implications about this. You know? That's one reason why I get on my people having open profiles, portable profiles, soap box and sit there and say, "No, we should be able to easily port our information and we should own all of our own information." One thing that I see with the mybarackobama.com that they didn't do that was a failing because if they had done that, then when the inauguration happened, all of those people could easily hop over. Right now we can't.

They're in control of their information; they're not relying on someone else to have the ability to port it.

Exactly.

Even if legally impossible, or legally punishable anyway. The impossible and punishable are very different.

That's true.

Speaking of election laws, the lack of transparency and understanding there is not surprising but it is staggering. How do you deal with the idea that government should be more open and accessible and understandable?

I'm a big fan actually of, Jimmy said not to say "crowd sourcing" because he hates that, but the community produced model in that I've got pretty libertarian leanings. I don't believe in government giving us information; I believe that we should go and gather our own. I think that we should handle it ourselves and make up our own minds on all of that. I believe that we should create a lot of tools to make that type of level citizen engagement easier and more accessible because of, you know, just going back to Shirkey's saying about the whole -- what does he call it? All of the extra brainpower that's floating around now that we don't just want to sit around watching television anymore? He had a great term for it.

The "do it for love" model or whatever.

Yeah. Taking all of that and using that in regards to government. People would be willing, I think, to expend that energy if they knew that it was going to be useful.

Can you give me an example?

My project the Transparent Federal Budget, which is basically letting anyone go in and document the budget on a paragraph-by-paragraph level. I'm on the board of directors of TANO, Texas Association of Non-Profit Orgs. There is some budgetary stuff that affects non-profits. We would gladly go in there and document away on all of that for the public if we had the avenue where we could sit there and say, "This is going to hurt us. This is going to help us. This is why." When I did my workshop on the transparent federal budget a couple of years ago with Betty Sue Flowers and some other people, I had some scientists there who would gladly go and document all of the stem cell research or osteoporosis research or all of their budgetary things and make their different pleas for funding on the budget and things of that nature. The Consumer's Union would love to go in there and document. ACLU would love to go in there and document. Cato Foundation would love to go in there and document.

I know that there's a lot of those people who are on blogs like the Daily Kos and Red State and everything else would also love to go in there and do that. It would be a good unifying way to go in there and create it and then you make up your own mind. If you see something like Cato and ACLU agreeing, oh my God, then you just know that it's crushing.

When the ACLU and Cato Institute go, "No, no, no, no, no," you know that it's not fiscally sound.

We're talking about federal budgets that are thousands of pages long.

Yes, but if you do it on a paragraph basis... The ACLU reads every bit of federal and state legislation.

Our legislators don't, is the problem.

Right. Exactly. They shouldn't. They can't. They can't keep up with that sort of thing. Our role as citizens is to let them know what's actually happening out of that. This would actually give us the venue to do that.

You think they'd listen?

Yes, I do. I did a survey four years ago with the Texas legislature, which, by the way, is a really difficult thing to do because every single politician when you say the word survey, runs screaming, don't like to answer your phone calls, things of that nature. I had to show up in person and explain, "This is a software survey and it's not what you think it is; I'm trying to design this piece of software. Let me talk to you about what you want and what you need." So I talked to 60 out of 150, and I got really amazing results from a lot of them in that they really do want to know what's going on. They want the information in a digestible format. Their first priority that they wanted was an RSS feed of all discussion that happened on their bills.

Really?

Yes. I had seven offices out of those 60, and all of this is anonymous, that had had someone call up say, "I'm against the blah, blah, blah." Like the Red Light Camera Bill or the something else bill, you know, one of the nicknames that the press gives the bill. they didn't know -- and they go, "Okay. Right." Marked it down. Then they find out later that's their bill. Their bill had consequences that they were not aware of that no lobbyists had come and talked to them about, and then so they got egg on their face. A whole bunch of people were calling them saying, "We're against this piece." They didn't realize it had that implication because if you read through a lot of it technology-wise... like when I was doing lobbying, they were trying to ban muni wifi in Texas. if you read those five paragraphs, from an outsider, you wouldn't know that that was going to ban muni wifi.

You just had to know it because you were like me and you were entrenched in it.

You know that "internet filters for school" means no wifi, or however they couch it these days.

Yes. Yes. Well, there's a lot of different ones, but it sounded like it was a business arrangement as in "municipalities cannot compete with blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." What they actually meant is, "No, you can't do free muni wifi." It sounded, the way it was written, it was couched in a way that you were being pro business, even though it was territories like Flatonia, Texas, which actually is ten minutes away from my grandparents' ranch, that Southwestern Bell was not services. They went and got their own T1 line and hooked up their own free muni wifi.

They were losing kids right and left because they've only got I want to say 4,000 or 5,000 people in Flatonia. They weren't getting anything, so they did it. Those five paragraphs in that 350 page bill would've banned them from doing that. It would've been devastating for them.

Is there a way to track the source of some of these paragraphs and such and say, "Oh, by the way, this wasn't written by a legislature; this was written by a trial attorney and this was written by a lobbying organization"?

That's why I want that documentation of the budget and all of that sort of thing on a paragraph by paragraph basis. The thing is, it's already got paragraph notations. All you have to do is go in, scrape it, put in a permalite for those paragraphs both in the laws as well as the live legislation and give people notifications of diffs. They can update their documentation. You get the budget. You scrape it all out. You put it in a paragraph notation which you can do -- and I've got some really awesome people in regards to scraping. He can literally do it in three hours. He's already done it for me once, the whole thing. Then compare it against other versions. So not a diff, if there's a diff notification on each of those. Whoever's documenting it gets the little announcement saying, "Beep. The stuff that you documented previously, it's changed. Go see if your documentation's still up to date."

I've long thought after reading just the title of Lessig's book Code is Law, the comparison between source code and the legal code is staggering. You have unintended consequences. You have a lot of code. You have repeated patches and maintenance from people that don't know what they're doing. You have refactoring opportunities. You have "let's throw this all out and rewrite it." And we don't have the code review. We don't have Greg Stein sitting on the commit list saying, "Here's the diff. By the way, you have an error there. You have a billion dollar money leak right there. Fix that or it's not going in."

Yeah, I love Greg. That's actually something that Karl Fogel and I talked about several years ago at OSCON.

He wanted to put Congress in Subversion.

Yeah, basically. And that was the funny thing is early on, I guess it was the second Foo Camp, Chris Messina and I got together and I was sitting there going, "Okay. Jimmy Wales just gave me legislation.wikia.com, what are we going to do with that?" And we came up with the idea of we want it in the CVS. We want to be able to watch all of this. If you go and if you do this thing on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis, you attach to it all of this social networking information. You attach to it all of these tagging aspects. You throw search on there. We're going to sit there and watch those burning little earmarks reoccur over and over again. We're going to be able to know who did them and when they did them and where they're actually coming from and track all of that down. Have you seen They Rule?

No, I haven't.

It's a guy who put in all of those businesses and their boards and who sits on their boards and where they're all connected. We could do the exact same thing with businesses, lobbyists, legislatures, campaign donations, all of that. That's what I call it Connect the Dots. You let people go in there and create it. It kind of becomes a conspiracy theorist's wet dream.

It's a very cyclical graph is the problem.

Yes, it is. That's why you need the reputation matrix. If you don't have the reputation matrix, then it blows up and goes kind of crazy. But if you can sit there and tie it to certain people, certain groups, adding in some reputation matrix system, this looks 90 percent along your political views, you know? While this looks 30 percent along with your political views and things of that nature. Then you can actually start to quantify it. My whole thing on it is I don't actually limit anyone from putting anything in there.

If all of the crazy "intelligent design" people want to go in and document a way and create their whole little conspiracy theory about that, they can. That's fine. I don't have to look at it, but they can go in and create it.

With libertarian leanings, I assume you're probably a little bit cynical. But do you think that politicians would welcome this in general? Or would they rather see it prove its worth? I can argue both sides. I can argue someone saying, "Well, all right. My opponent in this election says I voted against the Let's Give Candy to Babies act. You can call it the Let's Give Candy to Babies Act, but it also had Let's Kill Babies, and that was 80 percent of the bill. We'll give the babies we don't kill candy as the other 20 percent of the bill."

Savvy politicians understand that this is another tool. This becomes another tool where they can actually go. A lot of the ones that I talked to, once I explained it, they really understood how this is a tool that they could use for their benefit in regards to getting more of their perspective out there because. No one runs for office because they're like, "Oh, I'm going to get really rich." Except for maybe Cheney. But the majority of people don't think that.

He was already rich. We can say that. Don't worry.

Exactly. I was a legislative liaison for the ACLU, and I was their person to talk to Republicans on technical issues. One of the things that I found talking with a lot of them is that everyone there really does want to make the world a better place. They really do want people to understand their points-of-view. This gives them a way to do that more effectively than they've been done previously because they can sit there and say, "Really not a cartoon character. I might be a certain percentage in your group, but I might be another percentage in your group and look at the diversity of topics and things that I work on and influence." For a lot of them, they saw that. as being something that they could affect. Like I said, you can't be a politician and not have an intuitive sense of social networking.

They all look at it and believe, "Oh. Hmm. Yeah. I can get in on that." At least they did on a Texas level. It was interesting even watching the good old boys who are quite a bit older. I had one particular gentleman who completely took me under his wing. He was retiring that year and a complete conservative, very fiscally conservative, and he was really brutally honest with me which was rather nice. He would sit there and say, "Oh, no. They're not going to do this, but they will do this." It has to do a lot with making those tools very accessible.

The other thing that they really wanted was one-pagers. They wanted a way to sit there and look at the one-pagers. I thought that they would really want the statistics the most. You know, what are the percentages here? What are their numbers here?

That's geek engineer brain fallacy there.

It is. It completely is. What they wanted to do is they wanted to look at the one-pagers. They wanted to see who those one-pagers were associated with, the groups that they already knew, had already dealt with and make up their own minds. A lot of them wanted tools to facilitate conversations because a lot of them want to get back to being statesmen.

You think that's a personality trait? These people just love networking. They're extroverts. They love talking to people and love discussions?

Yes. I really do think that it is for the majority that I talk to. They really do love connecting with people. They really do want to make the world a better place. That's one of the things that you always have to understand when doing this. You have to understand where they're coming from. You don't run for office and go through a grueling campaign just for the hell of it.

I don't know if you've ever worked on a political campaign. I used to run them. I ran them for five years. I've worked on and ran them for five years. They eat your soul. No one does that for the hell of it. You can't do it repeatedly for the hell of it. I've known some amazing, really good, really forthright people just get eaten alive.

And that's local. That's not going up there. You have to understand what the motivational factor is.

It sounds like what you're saying is that politicians want the ability to say, "Look at these nuances."

Yes.

"When I try to govern, when I try to legislate, I do have an impossible job, but I'm really trying to do this good work. I wish I could tell people that we have to make some impossible choices sometimes. Look at the tradeoffs. Look at the benefits. If you don't trust my decision based on that, fine. But please at least look at and understand what I had to think about when I'm doing this."

Exactly. That's one of the things that we discussed is it being a tool of communication. It's also a tool for us to really effectively communicate with them for a change. What happens normally with them in regards to electronic age is tens of thousands of emails. There are several legislators that, when certain emails arrive from certain non-profit groups, they automatically all go in the trashcan. They don't even count them. They don't do anything with them. They're just like, "No, this is too much. We can't deal with it. Yeah. We know that so-and-so is mad at us. Okay. Whatever." They have nothing to do with it. It's completely ineffective.

The thing is is all you're doing is -- you're not even harassing the politician.

You're harassing their staffs.

Exactly. You're just making the staff's lives hell.

Who admittedly probably write the bills anyway, but still....

Yeah. It's true, but you're just mainly harassing the staff. One of the things that I talked with the staff about, I'm like, "What would you rather have things?" And they're like, "I would rather just have a report from you saying how many of your people you have for this and this and this, and have it be verified in some format that these numbers are real from another group or something along those lines so that I can just look at it and consider it in my deliberations. Really, actually, I don't care about your numbers. I care about your reasons. Give me that."

And bubble that up. That's why I go back to the whole consensus wiki portion where you create a one-pager from a political organization that shows that this is an agreement that makes 80 percent of these people happy. I don't know if you're familiar with Reuniting Americaorg? They got Grover Norquist and Joan Blade from Move On to sit down and write a Net Neutrality paper. We need more things like that. Maybe it's not just being the leaders doing that but having something that all of their membership can endorse and say, "Yes, this is what we want."

That's my dream. My vision.

One project or one big elephant in the room we're leaving out is the role of media in all of this. And I'm on the record -- if I'm not on the record, I will be soon, as saying I think the approach to journalism that we have in this country, especially with regards to politics and elections, is very much "There are two sides to every story; we have fair and balanced in the fact that we have equal time and darn it, there is always a winner, and the winner takes all."

Right.

This is not a system that encourages nuance.

No, and doesn't encourage collaboration either. That's part of the problem with going this view of the world as being black and white and these dichotomies.

We call it Manichaeism.

Exactly. How many times are you sitting there on a bulletin board or something along those lines for me in the technical realm and someone brings up in the comment section an idea that just changes it all, where it was a perspective that no one had thought about and no one had considered doing. Then suddenly, someone brings up that topic and you're just kind of like, "Okay. New thread time." This has just changed our perspectives on it completely. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to take that aspect, which happens in town hall all the time when people are having these little get togethers, and make it so that normal people can experience that and we can start to quantify it. One of the things that I want to do with my interactive online town halls is something along those lines.

I realize this may not be your area of expertise, but you obviously think about it. These models and these goals you have, how might they apply to other countries, other systems there?

Oh, actually, I have thought about that a lot because when I did do my large content management systems and things of that nature, you know, I'm very familiar with localization and internationalization. One of the content management systems I did was for 20 teams in 20 different countries, all different languages.

When I started doing the architecture for the system, I focused in on that. I went to New Zealand a while back and I talked -- do you know Tom Steinberg of mySociety, in the UK?

I've heard of them, but I'm not very familiar with them.

Yeah. They do Fix My Street and a whole bunch of other really fun sites. They're definitely ahead of us in regards to the whole interactivity with government. Way ahead of us.

Have they thinking about it longer? Do they have better tech? Have they've been working on it harder? Or does their MP system in the UK make it easier?

You know, I don't know. Part of me wants to sit there and say they have Tom, and Tom is very focused on doing really clean user interaction. That helps out a lot with getting the politicians to play. One flaw that we've had is that we haven't had anyone really coming forward who really understands doing that clean user interaction. I think that's why he's made so much progress. In New Zealand, they completely go for all of this. I met the head of their department who does all of this. And meeting her was completely obvious as to why this is all taking place because she was so inviting; she was so inclusive. She lets her employees experiment. They do all of these different things in taking their model and taking it to the E3 to all the different states and the state CIOs and such. It was something that they could really understand. That's one reason why I'm trying to do a best practices workshop for the state level in February of next year, to sit there and talk about how states can be more open in regards to government and taking some of those models from other countries that are actually practicing it.

Doing the design, I automatically made sure that it is localizable, so a paragraph notation format. Everybody, all law has paragraph notation format. It's just a given. It doesn't matter what country you're in.

You can't refer to it otherwise.

You take it back that simple and you just add in all of this semantic technology. It easily can be used by anybody else. Of course, everything in our charter for the League of Technical Voters, it states that everything must be open source, which means anybody gets to use it.

People reading this, people listening to this, assuming they agree with at least part of your goals, part of your mindset, part of your vision, what do they do?

Well, different things for different projects. If they're coders and they want to help code, go to League of Technical Voters and sign up there and help me get a codathon to work on some of this stuff locally with you. I like to go around throwing those in different areas of the country where we all get together and work on pieces of creating this ourselves. If you like the transparent federal budget, I have a website, Transparent Federal Budget. I'm about to get a new graphics designer because it's kind of ugly right now, but it has a mailing list and a discussion list to talk more about it. I'm trying to get that more positioned in front of Obama because of the fact that he mentioned it twice during the debates. I'm assuming some of that was fed to him from Bill Bradley because Bill actually had it in his book, The New American Story.

Then I also have a wiki for the League of Technical Voters for talking about helping out with the different architecture issues for the software. For me to get more geeks from O'Reilly, that would be groovy.


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8 Comments

I'd like to encourage you to look at Change-Congress.org - Lawrence Lessig's effort to get congress working for the people instead of big money.

"is an established technologist" ... and that's so because God's in her heaven and all's right in the world.

Lord it's been a long 3 decades waiting for /any of you/ to show a bit of wit or self-awareness.

Is this like high tech shackles?
Why would anyone, with any morals want to improve the control of other human beings?
I wonder what Stalin would think of this?

I don't live in a democracy. I live in a constitutional republic.

I don't want to improve how other humans control other humans. It is immoral and will lead to nothing but a lot of corpses.

Imagine someone 250 years ago going to the town square and informing everyone they had come up with a new and improved shackle.

Stalin would have loved this garbage.

"To be GOVERNED is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality."
--French socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, trans. John Beverley Robinson (London: Freedom Press, 1923), p.294

I would like to point out the eventual destination of this process:
http://www.metagovernment.org/

It is somewhat lofty and clearly is going to take quite a while to become the government of all of us, but when you think about it, it (or something like it) seems inevitable.

Transparency is a two way street. Having one's opinion known is at odds with the concept of privacy, as Rich quotes Proudhon. But people get "despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot" etc with or without government. Claims that government threatens us are as much of a sham as claims that government protects us. In the end, we must protect ourselves.

For that reason, expository mechanisms are best presented and controlled by the people themselves, rather than by government.

Wow, the Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists are out in force in this thread already.

Government sometimes fails at its job, other times it does well. Having people who actually believe that government is there to do good is extremely important to have it succeed.

Having no or almost no government doing important things (not just "protection from force and fraud", tough guys) leads to even worse outcomes; society truly becomes survival of the fittest, which many of you don't realize (because you're naive) or fetishize (because you're demented).

Market Fundamentalism's "process legitimizes outcome" (unwritten) axiom is an abject, utter, and total failure in the modern world.

Please, sit in your rooms reading Rothbard, Rand, Hayek and the Friedmans all day. Stay off the Internet and away from office.

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